Julia Gillard's plan to spend $1 billion on a motorway to the centre of Sydney has been dismissed as outdated, amid claims it would dump motorists into a gridlocked central business district.
The government's transport advisers and even toll road companies expressed doubts about the merits of the Prime Minister's demand that the O'Farrell government's WestConnex motorway run to the city.
''They are not even doing that in America any more,'' said Peter Newman, one of the 11 board members of the federal advisory body Infrastructure Australia. ''They are pulling them out. The freeways that went straight into the cities destroyed them,'' he said.
Scott Charlton, chief executive of Transurban, the country's largest toll-road company, questioned whether commuters needed a motorway to drive to the centre of the city. ''The big need is not to dump people into the CBD,'' he said. ''Public transport is really the most efficient way to deliver people into the CBD.''
Ms Gillard and federal Transport Minister Anthony Albanese said on Monday that they would provide at least $1 billion for the WestConnex provided it met three conditions.
They said the motorway needed to provide a ''direct route'' to the CBD and for freight to Port Botany, and not require tolls on roads that did not already have them, such as the M4 motorway.
''It's not good enough to invest billions of dollars and not
ease people's journeys all the way into the city,'' Ms Gillard said. Mr Albanese said motorists on the M4 needed to be able to drive to the city.
Premier Barry O'Farrell said the changes would add $5 billion to $8 billion to WestConnex's estimated cost of $10 billion to $13 billion.
''Coming in at five minutes to midnight on the eve of a federal election, when it hasn't been delivered in the past five years, does make people a bit sceptical,'' he said. ''The first I heard about today's plan was when I picked up the newspaper. This is back of the envelope stuff,'' he said.
Maps of the WestConnex project released by the state government show it running along the existing M4, along Parramatta Road to Camperdown, before heading in a tunnel to St Peters and linking up with an expanded M5.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has made similar comments about the need for the WestConnex to go to the city but has pledged $1.5 billion for the project regardless.
''It is never what you do to a city centre,'' said Professor Newman, who works at Curtin University. ''City centres have got to be places of agglomeration. As soon as you put more cars in there, you ruin them. That is so well known now it is silly to try and debate it.''
Mr Charlton, who supports the WestConnex project, said the Prime Minister had been ''disingenuous'' to promise $1 billion for the project but insist on add-ons that would cost more.
Garry Glazebrook, an associate professor at the Institute of Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology, said: ''The point about motorways is not to service the CBD. It is cross-regional traffic.
''Connecting into the heart of the CBD or the city doesn't make much sense because we are trying to reduce the amount of cars coming into the city,'' Dr Glazebrook said.
The chief executive of the NRMA, Wendy Machin, said it would be ideal to have an extension to Port Botany, though that would be expensive.
But she said she was not sure where the federal government wanted WestConnex to connect to the city.